Want to Re-design the Trolley Routes? Here’s Your Chance!

Vol Line Trolley, Knoxville, August 2014
Vol Line Trolley, Knoxville, August 2014

Today starts the first in a series of public hearings regarding the downtown Trolleys and, particularly, their routes. This is not the first time public input has been requested, with the most recent efforts being in 2010. A lively discussion was held then and some changes for the better were instituted. At that time, Michael Haynes wrote a well-conceived plea in Metro Pulse to apply common sense with regard to where people might go if given the chance. It boggles the mind to consider what has happened to downtown residential and business interests in the five years since the previous conversation.

It would have been difficult to envision the apartments east of the KPD building or 250 units at Marble Alley Lofts on what was in 2010 a sea of pavement. The changes currently happening in the Old City with The Daniel, lofts and retail, as well as ground-up residential and commercial construction on Depot, as well as The Mews on Magnolia could not have been foreseen. White Lily had not been redeveloped. Knoxville High School languished with no plan.

For that reason, city officials and KAT feel we need to re-examine routes and, as director Dawn Distler put it, ” . . . could they do better and are they going where people want to go?” There are limitations, however, to the current discussion. In the short term, the changes are limited to what can be done within the budget and the current area served. Longer term, routes could be stretched to new destinations only if city council changed the ordinance controlling the trolleys. Currently they are only allowed to serve the CBID area and UT/Fort Sanders.

Vol Line Trolley to Publix, Knoxville, August 2014

News has been generally good for the larger KAT system. Ridership is up 4.1% in the most recent year-over-year comparison. That compares to a 2.5% to 3% increase across the country. Currently ranking third in the state behind Nashville and Memphis, Knoxville Area Transit provided 3,000,000 rides last year. While a very large number, it compares to 10,000,000 for Nashville, though that city is both larger and is served by two transit lines, one of which is regional. Knoxville did show the biggest increase in ridership in the state last year.

A recent example shows that modifications can, indeed, result in increases in ridership. Two bus routes were recently extended and offered from 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM on Sunday. Where those routes had been averaging 750 riders on a typical Sunday, almost 1300 rode this most recent Sunday. Perhaps with some modification, the same could happen with the Trolley system. These and other changes are made possible by an increase in funding of around a quarter of a million dollars.

The three trolley lines, the Downtown, Gay Street and Vol routes, currently operate on different schedules. The Downtown route, which loops from near the river to the east and up to Locust Street only runs Monday through Friday and from 6:00 AM to 6:30 PM on those days. The Gay Street (self-explanatory route) and Vol (UT/Ft. Sanders/Downtown) run the same schedules as each other, but varying schedules each day. Monday through Thursday they run from 7:00 AM to 6:00 PM, Friday hours extend to 10:00 PM and on Saturday the hours start at 9:00 AM and run to 10:00 PM.

Current Trolley Routes
Current Trolley Routes

Several things become obvious when looking at the maps and schedules. There are no stops on Market Square, though some are close. There is no access to the river. Ms. Distler mentioned the fact, herself, that the trolley does not pass through the Old City. She also acknowledged that UT students have no Sunday access and, even though 10:00 PM may seem late to some of us, many young people could probably benefit from later connections between the Old City/Market Square and the UT campus.

When I mentioned something I’ve heard many of you say: Why not extend out Central to Happy Holler? She noted that the trolley is a way to get around downtown and that bus lines, while they do involve a small cost, serve both Central as well as Broadway. Any extension would not only involve a change in the ordinance, but would also require more money for  additional trolleys and drivers. She did insist, however, that those changes could be up for future consideration and that they want to hear those types of suggestions, as well.

So the series of public meetings will begin today at Flow (at 7:30 AM, so you may have missed that one) and will run through October 7. You’ll see a complete schedule for what they are calling “Trolley’s on Tap” at the bottom of this article. You’ll be greeted with a map at each of these events and be welcome to draw a route or simply to make comments. Additionally, an online survey has been provided and I’d really encourage you to take a few minutes and complete it. You’ll find it here.

Wedding Trolley, Gay Street, Knoxville, February 2013

After the first week of October, results from the meetings and online survey will be compiled and new routes may result. The hope would be to have these implemented by the beginning of the year – a time of the year referred to by KAT as “shakeup,” a point at which drivers, routes and hours are often shuffled for various reasons.

There are other considerations always brewing within the KAT board like how to operate during special events. There is no trolley service on the eight game days a year, for example, other than as shuttles for the game. Other downtown events make normal routes difficult. Dawn insists we must “build for the future,” which she sees as necessarily much more dependent on public transportation.

Finally, “congratulations” goes out to Kellie Crye who won two tickets to see the Milk Carton Kids at the Bijou Theatre. Stay tuned for more chances to win coming very soon.


Trolleys on Tap Dates and Locations:

• Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015, 7:30 a.m. – 9:00 a.m. at Flow, 603 West Main Street

• Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2015 – 5:00 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. at Suttree’s, 409 S. Gay Street

• Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2015 – 7:30 a.m. – 9:00 a.m. at OliBea, 119 S. Central Street

• Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015 – 7:30 a.m. – 9:00 a.m. at Café 4, Market Square

• Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015 – 5:00 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. at Flow, 603 West Main Street

• Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015 – 5:00 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. at Old City Java, 109 S. Central Street